From Engineer to Photographer: Eric Rubens Shares What It's like to Create Content for a Living
Eric Rubens is killing it on Instagram.
Take one look at his Instagram and you'll immediately see why. But while many photographers have great engagement on social media, that doesn't necessarily translate to dollars. For Eric, though, it does.
Read on to learn more about what it's like to be a full-time content creator.
Kevin: You've established a substantial following on Instagram with the amazing photography and videography content you create. How did you get started with each?
Eric: I went to college for electrical engineering and started off taking pictures after work since I needed an escape after a long day. I never expected it to be a career or to make a single dollar off photography so needless to say, I’m pretty surprised it has evolved into my career. I shot almost every day for years before I started getting work and built up my audience on social platforms before I started getting reached out to for campaigns. Once I went full-time, I dedicated my days to learning video since I thought the photography market was very saturated and it would potentially open some new opportunities.
K: As a content creator, about how much time are you spending planning, shooting, and editing in any given week?
E: It varies depending on which campaign I’m working on or if I’m in between projects. On average I spend 20-30 hours a week shooting, editing, and planning projects.
K: In an increasingly competitive and noisy social world, what strategy or strategies have you found most effective in making sure your content gets in front of as many people as possible?
E: I try to not worry about things I can’t control on social media, specifically formulas or algorithms on how my work gets pushed out and distributed. I figure if I have a strong body of work, I’ll get opportunities. I try to network with other creators often as well, which helps introduce my work to their audiences.
K: You've mentioned the Sony Alpha series in your Instagram stories. Could you talk a little about how you started working with them?
E: Sony reached out to me back when they launched the a7rii and a7sii as they were looking to have some non-Sony shooters try the line and provide feedback. I loved the quality of the files and noticed a huge improvement from my current camera at the time. Being an ambassador now provides some travel opportunities and chances to work with the products often times before they’re released to the public. I love the technology on the Sony line and it seems like they’re consistently above the other companies. The Sony a9 has been an awesome addition to the line and I love the video quality it shoots!
K: While we're on the topic of gear, let's nerd out for a second. Let's say you're road tripping with friends across the country. You can only bring one camera body, one lens, and one accessory. What are they, and why?
E: I’d bring the a9, 16-35 f2.8, and the DJI Ronin-M. The a9 is the perfect combo of video and picture quality. Shooting 120fps at 1080p is everything I need for video to get smooth slow motion. It also shoots 20FPS at 24.2MP which is amazing for sports or nature. I’d bring a wide angle since you can always crop in but you can’t crop out. I always shoot wide to be on the safe side since it gives my more flexibility in post production. The Ronin is a must for video stabilization and capturing clean movement!
K: What are your sources of inspiration? Are there any particular books, Youtube channels, or Instagram accounts you follow that have helped to inspire your own work?
E: I really enjoy travel accounts that introduce me to new spots and post high quality work consistently. A few of my favorite accounts on Instagram are @doyoutravel, @muenchmax, @robstrok, and @aaronbhall. In terms of video, I really enjoy the work of @sam_kolder, @nainoalanger, and @mattjkomo for pushing creativity consistently!
K: It's apparent in most of your posts that you frequently work with other creators for the projects you undertake. How often are you planning out projects in a team setting versus just going out and shooting solo?
E: I shoot solo most the time at home because I typically don’t decide whether or not I’m going to go out and shoot until right before sunset based on conditions. It makes it a little hard to plan stuff out ahead of time. In terms of larger scale travel trips, I try to go on at least a couple a month. If I get approached by a tourism board I typically try to get a friend or two on the trip because it’s nice shooting with another talented person and it enables us to grab shots of each other. If I have a lull in travel jobs, I’ll typically reach out to plan a road trip or camping trip to make sure I frequently have new content to post.
K: Are you a full-time content creator? If so, how long did it take you to go from a hobbyist to supporting yourself full-time? How has your life changed since doing it full-time? What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of "making things" for a living?
E: I do photo and video full-time now since I quit my engineering job a year ago. It took a few years of shooting almost daily for me to build an audience and get consistent work. It’s definitely nice being on your own schedule versus working at my past job, but you have to stay busy and hungry. A lot of people sit around and expect work and opportunities to come their way. It’s important to be reaching out and networking as much as possible. You also have to be flexible and come to the realization that travel isn’t always as glamorous as it looks. Often times on my travel campaigns, I shoot from sunrise to sunset and then spend time editing at night. There’s very few instances where I have time to sit back, relax, and treat it as a vacation. The good thing is it doesn’t always feel like work. It definitely takes some getting used to and isn’t for everyone.
K: If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when you were just getting into your craft, what would it be?
E: I’d try to tell myself to not worry about what other people think of your work as much. I’m a firm believer now that there’s not a right or wrong way to edit your work. If you like how it turned out, then that should be the only thing that matters. Create for yourself and not for others.
K: It's important to know your worth, but there are times when it makes sense to collaborate with others rather than charging them. How do you find the balance between doing paid work vs. trade work?
E: I typically collaborate versus charge on either passion projects or destinations that are bucket list. I’ve worked on a couple campaigns that were for good causes and was happy to help on those. I’ve also been fortunate through Instagram to travel to a couple destinations that were on my bucket list. If that’s strictly on a trade basis (cost of trip in exchange for social coverage) then I’ll always consider it!